Jim Reid: Folk singer who celebrated the culture of north-east Scotland

The Independant
Wednesday 22 July 2009

Jim Reid was a singer and songwriter whose music had a strong flavour of his native Dundee and the Angus region. He sang, played guitar and mouth organ, and was particularly drawn to the traditional songs of Scottish travellers, (many of which he learned from the Stewarts of Blairgowrie) and also adapted numerous poems by the renowned Scottish poet Violet Jacob. A founder member and initially the leader of Arbroath's Foundry Bar Band, he eventually embarked on a solo career.

"He had quite a distinctive sounding voice, very warm, what I would call a traditional Scottish voice, and he sang very much in the Dundee and Angus dialect. He made no pretensions of being anything else other than a Dundonian," recalls Ian Green, founder of Greentrax records, the leading Scottish folk label for whom Reid made his final album.

Reid went to school in Dundee before working as a mechanic at Stobswell's Garage, a successful business owned by his father. This was interrupted by two years' National Service in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

On returning to Dundee, he worked for the soft drinks manufacturer Robb Brothers. By the late 1960s he had begun to cut his musical teeth with local band the Shifters, after which he formed the Taysiders, a duo with Jim Craig on melodeon. In 1971, they were joined by the multi-instrumentalist Ken McKay, previously of the folk band the Livingstones. It was during this period that Reid got to know Green, who sometimes booked them for "Fuzzfolk", the police folk club he ran in Edinburgh.

Reid then relocated to Arbroath to work for the Irn-Bru manufacturers A.G. Barr. During his lunch breaks he began to meet some of the musicians frequenting the Foundry Bar. In 1976, Reid and a number of these regulars played at the Kinross Festival, entering and winning the ceilidh band competition. Their success spurred them to form the Foundry Bar Band, which soon allowed Reid to pursue music full-time. Their marches, jigs, reels and songs proved popular at weddings, ceilidhs and clubs throughout Scotland over the next few years, and they became regulars at the traditional music festivals at Keith, Kirriemuir and Auchtermuchty.

Reid recorded three albums with them (all for the Springthyme label), The Foundry Bar Band (1981), On the Road With the Foundry Bar Band (1983) and Rolling Home (1988). In 1984 he released his first solo album, I Saw The Wild Geese Flee (also Springthyme), the title track of which was his most well-known song, based on a Violet Jacobs poem.

In 1990 Reid teamed up with the versatile accordionist John Huband for Freewheeling Now (Springthyme, 1990), and he established his own label, Greylag Music, to release The Better O' A Sang (1996) and Eh'm fae Dundee (meaning "I'm from Dundee") in 1999. After years of gentle chivvying from Green, he made his final solo album Yont the Tay for Greentrax in 2005.

The year before, he had published a book, also titled The Better O' A Sang, which included songs, tunes and stories he had collected over his life, and celebrated the culture of Scotland's north-east.

Reid also contributed to four of the 12 volumes of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns (Linn Records) and appeared on several albums by other artists, including the fiddler Paul Anderson's The Journey Home (1997) and A' The Bairns O' Adam (2003) an album made in tribute to the Scottish poet Hamish Henderson

In December 2005, he won "Scots Singer of the Year" at the Scots Trad Music Awards. Upon accepting his award, he appeared to have no comment, but when prompted, uttered the pithy pronouncement: "Nae afore time!"

He is survived by his partner Julia, his children Linda and Craig and grandchildren Craig, Megan and Kirsty.

Jon Lusk

James Crighton Reid, singer and songwriter: born Dundee 30 May 1934; one daughter, one son with partner; died Kirriemuir, Scotland 6 July 2009.